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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Black Friday" at a Wal-Mart

The day after Thanksgiving, the doors and the staff of a Wal-Mart in Valley Streem, N.Y. awaited, without being fully aware of the seriousness at hand, the full assault of a mob of would-be shoppers. At the appointed opening time the mob could no longer restrain itself and, like a human battering ram, it pressed against the sliding glass doors with such force that the doors fell over, toppling a temporary worker who lacked the necessary wings on his feet, and the front ranks surged inside, while some themselves fell and were piled on and trampled in turn, and several other store workers were likewise assaulted by the consumer eagerness. People were hurt, and the first worker, the one at the bottom of the pile, expired.

I have been through Valley Stream several times. It's way out on Long Island, and it's one of the important turn-off points on the drive to Hempstead, where a couple of my cousins used to live. I always liked the name. I thought it was too good a name for that part of New York.

Since then I have managed to get through a good many more years of life while having been in a Wal-Mart maybe eight times tops. But based on that extensive experience, my question is, what could possibly be in one that would cause people to be that hungry to get inside, and especially while stomping others in the process? I didn't think those kinds of things ever happened anywhere in the U.S.

In answer to my question, my wife instantly scrunched up her face into a very uncharacteristic and wildly hostile expression and yelled, "Not a damn thing!"

Now the police are studying the store videos, but they're not confident of identifying any of the Wal-Mart Tramplers.

But by now most of them -- or at least several -- must have descended from those heights of insanity long enough to know who they are. Meanwhile I wonder how they felt as they went on to shop and as they went through the checkout counter, and what they're thinking now, as they sit at home, watching the TV and desperately hoping that nothing in the video will allow them to be identified, while realizing that they were actually full-fledged accomplices in a group murder, and all for something in a Wal-Mart.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Synchronicity Mumbai Attacks

I am astonished at how often I see news items to which I can personally relate, despite my current lack of contact with the world at large.

In Mumbai, a place that has undergone one of those unfortunate changes of names, after having been called "Bombay" for so long, teams of gunmen with a bias against Westerners staying in and otherwise using the swankier establishments in that city roared into that area a couple of days ago, shooting, bombing, and taking hostages. Indian commandos have now largely taken charge and wiped out those guys, but the toll of victims is 80 or more dead.

Among those are two people from Virginia, and more specifically, from right here in the small rural county where I live, Nelson. A man named Alan Scherr and his daughter Naomi, age 13, were found shot dead in a cafe, near a hotel where, as part of a 25-member delegation from Synchronicity, a meditation group based about 20 miles from here, up in the northern part of the county, they were in Mumbai to attend a conference on high tech meditation. Also present was Synchronicty's leader, identified as a "swami of Tahtric Mysticism," Charles Cannon. Four other members of the group were also shot, though apparently Cannon was not among them.

Twenty-five or so years ago my wife and I were invited to attend one of their sessions. It was held in a circular building that, to the best of my recollection, suggested a huge metal teepee. This was a meditation hall, complete with comfortable reclining chairs, earphones for listening to rarefied space music, dim, bluish lighting, and interesting scents of incense being wafted from little machines mounted high overhead.

This was long ago, but I think the leader at that time was also named "Charles." I remember the name "Brother Charles," or maybe "Master Charles," and I wonder if Cannon is the same man. He was a sleek-looking, dark-haired guy, and he seemed almost too young to be the leader of a group that was obviously doing so well. I was told that in fact he had played one of the children on a highly popular TV comedy of the '50's or '60's, most likely "The Brady Bunch." If he is the same man, he is now, like the rest of us, almost old.

I think that he -- or someone -- appeared briefly on a small stage at one edge of the building to instruct us on how to medidate, and that was what we tried to do for the rest of the time, and failed miserably, though it was interesting and relaxing. At least I failed. I can meditate with the best of them, but apparently not on purpose.

I still have a tape and some literature of theirs from that era somewhere. Otherwise till just now Synchronicity had completely dropped off my radar scope. Not being notorious in any way, I don't think they ever attract local attention.

I only encountered them when they ordered some honey from me and a beekeeping friend who is now long since deceased. When we delivered the honey in 5-gallon containers, it took us a while to find anyone moving about. They must've all been in their "teepee" meditating. We took the time and the opportunity meanwhile to poke around unobtrusively, wondering what it was all about, looking over the exteriors of a melange of newly built, indiviculistuc buildings, and theorizing that it was a commune of some sort, of which an unusual number in some form or another could be found in the county or nearby.

It was very quiet there. It must be even quieter now.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Day Before Thanksgiving

There are few things more heart-warming to see than a properly flushing toilet bowl.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What Should Be Done About the Auto Industry Bailout?

What should be done about the 25 billion dollar "bridge loan" that auto executives are seeking from Congress, and that they dislike hearing others refer to as a "bailout."

This is a conumdrum that is baffling many people, and I was going to say that I have no suggestions. But the more I think about it the more it seems that the solution is on the side of leaving it to the companies to work out things on their own, by producing cars that are more environmentally friendly and less wasteful of the world's diminishing resources -- while borrowing in the short term from their oil industry buddies, who are flush with cash.

Meanwhile, besides going to Congress with hat in hand, the industry's plea should not have been made by guys who presided over their companies while getting into this bind and to which their decisions surely contributed. As typical "fat cats" they were too obese, with their salaries said to be in the astronomical neighborhood of 20 million apiece. What person on the planet does anything at all that he or she deserves to be paid that much?

The industry would have made a better case if it had left at home in their saunas the very men who bore some responsibility for their firms' financial shortfalls and who were not therefore slated to be fired and instead would be left in place and trusted to preside over the use -- and most likely the misuse -- of those requested billions as well. Instead the companies should have sent before Congress their versions of ombudsmen, if there are any. I mean those people who are sometimes used by newspapers to criticize the paper's policies from a supposedly independent point of view. Maybe such auto ombudsmen wouldn't have been free of the corporate grip either, but that would've still been a risk worth taking.

What Should Be Done About the Pirates?

The other day the Somali pirates, who are still holding for ransom -- among other of their unholy confiscations from the high seas -- the Ukrainian freighter containing all those 40-ton battle tanks, went even farther out into the ocean and into their own endless perfidy by going upscale in a major way. Using just a few speedboats and some rocket-propelled grenade launchers, they captured a huge, new supertanker belonging to the Saudi Arabians and loaded to the brim with 2,000,000 gallons of crude oil.

The pirates escorted the giant tanker to the Somali coast, where it is now sitting quietly about three miles offshore. Such an acquisition must be impressing the local inhabitants highly. Daily they gather on the beach in numbers to ogle the sight. They have never seen a ship that big, and detained there indefinitely by some of their own.

The pirates are demanding a ransom of 25 million. The news reports focus on the fact that that oil has a value of about 100 million dollars, but I don't see so much importance in that. What is important is the oil itself, and the twin horrors of the total wastage of a highly important resource, plus the pollution that would be produced if something should happen to that ship, and then there are the several crewmen who also being held captive onboard. I doubt if all those inhabitants would be so proud if they knew what so much oil could do to their fair coastline.

And meanwhile the mighty U.S. Navy has done absolutely nothing about any of this. Instead it was the Navy of no less a country than India, those turbaned guys who are rarely thought of as having even a modest PT boat, that found, picked a fight with, and with a noticeable lack of misgivings sent one of the pirate motherships straight to the bottom, where it and all the other vessels of its kind belong.

Still that didn't stop more Somali abductions of other freighters in the same week.

Instead of doing something really as necessary as going after all this egregious wrongdoing on the high seas, the U.S. Navy is merely using the warships that it does have in the area to continue to surround the Ukrainian freighter, to keep the smaller arms aboard from being brought ashore. Meanwhile it keeps the main body of its ships in that part of the world up in the Persian Gulf or nearby, in the continuing and useless effort to try to browbeat Iran into submission, ostensibly about developing nuclear weapons.

I guess the U.S. governing officials share the often befuddled Air American host Ron Kuby in seeing this piracy as being all some sort of joke. He can never resist mentioning it without playing a few bars of yo-ho-ho "pirate music," and expressing surprise at the pirates' ingenuity and use of modern technology, to the point where he -- or somebody on the air -- recently defended the pirate's actions as being understandable and amounting to important contributions to the Somali economy, given the chronically sad state of conditions there, and I'm sure that person wasn't just being sarcastic.

When it turned out that all that oil was being taken to the U.S., I thought that somebody there might finally get serious about what to me is a very serious matter. After all piracy is a form of hijacking, and hijacking is bad news at sea fully as much as it is in the air, or just on a city street.

The Navy spokespeople argue that their outfir can do little to nothing about it, because there's too much ocean and Somali coastline to patrol effectively, but I find that impossible to believe. In fact this feigned impotence only adds to the picture of the U.S. military as being largely a huge waster of the funds that Americans are forced to send to the government, wherein nothing really productive is gained in pursuit of the so-called "broken windows" military policy. Surely everyone has seen the Military Channel and knows about all the high tech gadgetry, with which U.S. forces could easily scope out not only where the pirate motherboats, speedboats, and strongholds are, but also to deliver some detonations there with pinpoint accuracy.

Meanwhile the pirates are showing their usual heights of arrogance by vowing to resist with deadly force any attempts to release the ship and its crewmen by military intervention, saying they are "defending" the oil while waiting for "their" money. Here, in addition to foreigners, they are thinking about Islamists on shore, who have sworn to rescue the ship, on the grounds that the ship and the oil belong to other Muslims and therefore should not have been touched. And in fact it was in recent years that the Islamists were briefly in control in Somalia long enough to get rid of an earlier gneration of the pirates. But now some think they may clandestinely have in mind looking for merely their cut of the anticipated loot, in the style of Mafia kingpins controlling a neighborhood.

"A Big Mess" hardly begins to describe this situation and how it's beginning to spread, like poison in the arteries, to far reaches of the world, and not merely by putting a deadly squeeze on one of the globe's major shipping lanes.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Leaning Tree

Twelve years ago Hurricane Fran came through here and blew over a number of the larger trees in our woods, mainly the pines, which I don't have many of, and the red oaks. I long ago cut up and used such of those as weren't too far away to cart to the house, but one big, tough customer remained. It was a hickory across the creek and up the hill, and it wasn't completely blown over, though its root system had been lifted a little. The hickory had a nighly noticeable lean of about 15 degrees.

Yesterday afternoon, after studying that tree for that long a time, and inspired by being behind in my woodcutting by having started late, with more time lost because of my recent well pump experience, and chastened by the extreme cold of recent days, I finally made the trek in the windy high 30's cold with my cartload of tools up there.

I usually go through a lot of mystique whenever I cut a tree, especially a major one.

Following that I started cutting, feeling glad that at least I didn't have to worry about the tree's direction of fall. I cut the big front notch okay though probably not deep enough, at less than a third through (it was very cold out there). But as I was trying to deepen it my saw stopped running.

So it was back down the hill on my wobbly legs and up the other hill to get my other saw, and back again, with my less sharp second saw. But it was enough to get the crucial back cut started, and finally the tree started making those sounds of fibers breaking, signalling that it is going down.

But hickories are tough trees, and another big one that I cut years ago and that was standing straight up, stayed that way down to nearly the last square inch of wood remaining, a dangerous situation, and especially in those days before I caught on to using come-alongs to control the direction of fall.

So now, very gingerly I would cut a little, and stop quickly and back way off when I heard more cracking and breaking. But the tree then became hung up in two tall but much smaller oaks that I had calculated it would just brush by. One of the hickory's outstretched limbs, however, wouldn't allow that.

Finally, with the sun having disappeared and the cold getting severe, I just covered my equipment and left, hoping that the tree would finish falling in the night, as it was now about halfway down.

Later, I hadn't been asleep long before something woke me suddenly and gave me a big scare, because it sounded as if there had been an explosion somewhere on the property. Making an extremely loud noise to be so far away, the hickory made a prolonged breaking sound before delivering a final sledgehammer blow to the ground. It was exactly 10'45 P.M.

I am thankful for this gift of that rree and of the woods for more than the usual number of reasons.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Night's Sun

Situations in my workshop and in the smaller building that houses my well and its related equipment have caused me lately to take little treks outside quite often, hours after the Sun has set, and this has made me appreciate anew how the world can be as beautiful in the depths of night as it is in the daylight. This doesn't apply to cities; at night they have too many prospects of police, criminals, and various other night people prowling about, while in the country the worst threat I've seen was once years when a sudden swirl of white at my feet turned out to be the markings of a living skunk, who later, maybe on the same night, grinned up at me when I opened my front door.

Otherwise the nights here in the woods are filled mainly with all kinds of interesting sounds, mixed with the mysterious gradations and shadings of the trees and the other features of the land. Best of all, there's the sky, with the stars, the Moon, and especially the clouds, which present an ever-changing, subtle light show.

That show, of course, happens only when the Moon is out, and it's too bad though absolutely necessary that though it is the night's Sun, the Moon, unlike the Sun, can be in a person's night sky for only about half the time, if that.

I'm grateful for the periods like recent days, because the Moon helps me to see where I'm going without the use of artificial light, and also it adds so much to the nocturnal landscapes that otherwise are visible only to creatures like house cats, who, however, ungrateful little wretches that they sometimes appear to be, never give any sign that they savor such sights.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lionel, Franken, and the Trap of Humor

Recently I heard a person, a host on Air America radio, say that he could think of nothing, absolutely nothing, that he considered to be beyond the reach of his humor, or words to that effect.

That confirmed the low opinion of him that I formed almost from the start and that hasn't changed since. A statement like this means that nothing at all is of real importance to him. No matter how much time and effort he might spend harping on one particular subject, employing all sorts of exaggerated mannerisms along the way, in the end the topic really didn't matter to him. Therefore he's a vaporous person, with no true convictions or feelings.

Washing up on this kind of spiritual desert island is where an overwhelming compulsion to elicit laughs can get a person.

I think Al Franken suffers from having landed in the same trap. Until the recent economic downturn he was way behind in his effort to try to unseat the incumbent Senator from Minnesota, a Republican, N. Ooleman. Now Franken is still behind, but the race is awaiting a recount, because Coleman's margin is so thin, by only about 200 votes out of nearly 3 million cast. Though Franken's stands are generally good (I wonder if he is still shaky about Iraq?), during the campaign he was looked at askance because of his longtime career as a comedian and his obvious lack of distance from that.

His opponents found plenty of material in jokes he had written, especially for "Saturday Night Live." That was long ago, but during his campaign appearances, he couldn't resist still indulging in comic bits. Humor has its place but not everywhere, and I think that his turn as a talk show host a few years ago on the Sundance Channel was likewise marred by the way that no matter how grave the subject, you could easily see how his mind, in spite of itself, couldn't never stop searching for ways to make a comic remark about things.

For most people there must be many areas where joking about them is only a careless or deliberate affront. Few people can have led lives so devoid of things that really mattered and that went so badly wrong that laughter as comment was the last thing they cared to hear.

Obama Euphoria

It seems that, due to my own lifetime experiences and to those of others who lived long before me in the same genetic boat, the Obama euphoria that is gripping so many of all persuasions is largely closed off to me. There have been just too many disappointments and reversals, and my crystal ball is too clouded for me to be able to make out in it any clear picture of Majority America's general drift in the near and the distant future, even though I have watched that situation carefully all my adult life. But then, Majority America itself doesn't have the best understanding of that, and those who quietly count themselves lucky not to be in the same boat have also been through such reversals. A recent example is the way that the spirit of the 1960's, which broke so many chains in ways of thinking, was nevertheless grossly betrayed by the decades that followed.

That's why subjects like President-elect Obama's choice of a dog for his daughters, his attitude toward sports, and the overwhelming clamor for tickets to his upcoming inaugural -- concerns that are of such great interest to many -- strike me as being way over on the insignificant side.

I keep thinking instead of how, because the Republicans are the party of choice for the hate groups and those who would turn the clock back to the darker eras of the American experience, the result of each election of modern times that favored them has been to keep pushing the country closer to a situation much like what the no less civilized Germans accommodated during the 1930's. So Obama's election must mean that that effort has at least been put on hold. The camps may be ready, but now the star-spangled cattle cars won't start rolling just yet. But as to whether such implements will now become just fast rusting-away relics of a dying "Final Solution" dream will still remain to be seen.

I'm perfectly aware, though, that there are still just as many grounds for hopes instead of the brightest of futures.

"...Faith, hope, and charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity." So goes a verse somewhere in the Bible. Some people are scornful of hope, but in a movie I saw recently, a prospect for a risky wartime venture was asked which among faith, hope, and love (charity) would she value most. We might've expected her to say "Love," but she answered "Hope." That makes a lot of sense, too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. I've been listening to the radio on my computer and also reading things there that spoke of the occasion, but still quite a bit of time passed before -- just now -- suddenly it occurred to me that this is a day in which I should feel that the observances are going on as much in my very tiny honor -- for a change -- as they are for anyone else who wore the uniform. I served as an enlisted man in the U.S. Air Force for four years, minus a few days.

But that was such a long time ago -- 1952-56 -- and despite my best efforts, like everything else, the memory of that experience is growing dimmer by the day. Though it was the Korean War, I was never in any situation that resulted in brain-searing trauma of any kind. Instead, in that less uptight branch of the Service, it was more of an extended youthful lark, and I spent time in a string of interesting places that I would never have otherwise seen -- first the Finger Lakes District of New York state and then Southern Illinois, California, Okinawa, Nebraska, and, for a few weeks, even the frozen wastes of Labrador. Even more important, I became acquainted with people from a great many of the various American subcultures -- maybe almost all of them -- whom I might also never have encountered otherwise, especially up so close.

In the course of that I worked with dedication on the airplanes, received commendations, got my honorable discharge, went back home, and that was it, and ever since I have taken no part in the veteran mystique, except that I did finish college on the GI Bill.

It's the same as the attitude that I have toward Christmas. Peace on earth and good will to men are issues that are with me every day of the year, and so to mark them mainly on one day of the year seems basically too mechanical and even unnecessary. Similarly things might happen at any time to remind me of one or the other of the myriad little aspects of having been in the Air Force.

So I leave the specialness of this day to others who understandably and rightfully have very different and more regular mindsets.

As to what some might see as the problem here, the trouble might have been that everybody that I served with seemed to have the same attitude as me. Patriotism, along with one's religion and their sexuality, were things to be taken purely for granted, and so during that time they almost never came up as topics of conversation. In my mind that principle still rings as true as ever.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Elusive Definition -- CDS's

I realize that in two previous posts devoted to credit default swaps (CDS's), I have yet to say in a concise manner exactly what they are. That's because I still have no clear understanding of them. Yet, in discussions about the current condition of the economy, in the U.S. and all over the world, which continues to be threatening, mention of those things keeps cropping up. This suggests that others are much more privy to that valuable information, though they are strangely stingy, in plain English or in any other language, when it comes to defining the swaps and explaining how they fit into into the general scheme of things, for good or for ill. It's not enough to say that they are "a form of corporate debt insurance" and letting it go at that.

I think I know what "credit" is. That's being trusted to pay back money. I think I know what a "default" is. In one sense of the word, commonly used in computer talk, it is the property toward which a choice is keyed, in preference to other outcomes. In another sense, which must be the way it is used here, it's the state of things when a loan is not repaid in the stipulated time. And I'm certain that I know what a "swap" is. It's slang for a "trade."

I also know that hydrogen and oxygen are separate, gaseous elements and that when combined, the most well-known result is something very different, water. But taken together, in my grossly inadequate noggin, the three words "credit," "default," and "swap" still don't add up to anything that makes acceptable sense.

So in this article today, which tells of how the recent gigantic bailout of the American Insurance Group, the AIG, is being restructured, with more billions predictably involved, I expected mentions of credit default swaps to shed some light on what they are and why they hang over the financial world in amounts far exceeding the amount of real money in the world. But you may have more luck than I did with those mentions, lifted as follows from that article:

The credit crisis has proven to be a difficult environment to spin off assets. Furthermore, the company's investors continued to demand that the insurer post collateral to back its credit default swap agreements - essentially insurance contracts that AIG had sold to customers worldwide - forcing AIG to borrow more and more from the government.

...Funded with $30 billion from the New York Fed and $5 billion from AIG, it will purchase up to $70 billion of multi-sector collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, on which AIG's financial products division wrote credit default swaps. As the value of these CDOs plummeted, AIG was forced to post more collateral to back up the swaps. Some 95% of the division's writedowns originate from these multi-sector CDOs.

Once this entity is funded, the credit default swaps on these CDOs will be terminated. This is aimed at stopping the collateral calls that have been overwhelming the insurer.

"...We cannot continue to hemorrhage cash in posting collateral for credit default swaps," said AIG Chief Executive Edward Liddy. "We need to stop that, and we need to stop that now."

I guess, till one or a bunch starts dropping certain unwelcome gifts on my head from high overhead, I will just have to be satisfied with saying that CDS's are simply huge and unknowable numbers of hungry vultures circling just above the dense clouds of economics talk and waiting till it's their time to drop straight down on us with an all-devouring vengeance, whether by that time we are still whistling or not.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

What Should Be Done About J. Lieberman?

Rahm Emanuel, B. Obama's choice to be his White House Chief of Staff, is supposed to have once mailed a dead fish to a political opponent, though that hasn't been confirmed, and besides, the same kind of story dates far back, I believe, through the cultures of other ages.

And that dead fish identity makes J. Lieberman a natural for H. Reid, the leader -- so far -- of the Senate Democrats, to put into his stack of outgoing parcels, senatorially speaking.

To my eye Lieberman has always hung over the head of the Senate Democrats, like an unsheathed samurai sword slung over the entrance to your dining room. He is listed as one of the two Independents in the Senate, the other being B. Sanders of Vermont, both voting usually with the Democrats and so included in their number, which has grown to within three now of a filibuster-proof total of 60. But I am surprised to hear that Lieberman has voted any at all with the Democrats, much less three-quarters of the time, and that he hasn't long since instead converted to being a full-fledged Republican. The things I'hear about him place him as being much more in that camp, and in fact he supposedly didn't miss by much being J. McCain's running mate this year as Vice-President.

But whether that's true or not, his buddy-buddy bit with J. McCain didn't do that Republican any more good than happened with A, Gore, while Lieberman was running for the same office in 2000 as a Democrat.

J. Lieberman strikes me as being a faithless, flaccid, walking snake bite of a guy, and if H. Reid has any smarts he will say, "Bye, Joe, and good luck out there in your marshmallow land."

Any situation would profit from Lieberman's absence, and I am baffled by all the people in Connecticut and elsewhere that can't seem to see that.

Welfare States

Listening to the Thom Hartmann show on Air America, I heard that, with the exception of Texas, all those red states that went for J. McCain received more from the Federal Government than they sent it, but the great majority of the blue states that preferred B.Obama received less from the Government than they contributed to it.

What does this mean?

It could mean a lot of things, with hypocrisy at the top, after all the attacks on welfare recipients, big government, and porkbarrel spending. It could mean that a lot of voting was done with an eye to keeping those in office who would keep the funds flowing to their districts, at the expense of the rest of the country.

Or it could mean that the states of mostly the old Confederacy plus the wild waterless West are simply needier. But that wouldn't be anything that they would want to be bruited about, either.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

First "Black" U.S. President? Well....

The constant references to B. Obama as the first "black" U.S. President make me feel just as constantly uneasy. But then I am the weirdo who, in reaction to and because of intense and undying resentment of the experience of Jim Crow, long ago rejected any notion that I be considered and judged in any way on the basis of what I consider to be that bogus "black" thing. For several reasons my African heritage strikes me as being one of the least interesting and significant things about me, and I think the same applies to President-elect Obama.

I will farther compound my heresy by saying that I also consider Obama's election to have been already overshadowed when it comes to race stuff, by another event that happened here in Virginia a little while ago (actually 18 years). After all, the U.S. is the U.S., with large minority populations of many kinds all over the place, but Virginia was the heart of the Confederacy. The Secession of 1861 would not have succeeded had Virginia not finally overcome its justified but unfortunately weak reluctance, and, after Lincoln's call for troops, it finally joined the Cotton States in stumbling down the garden path to widespread death and despoliation of its own territory. Yet in 1990 it became the first state in the country, including the supposedly more enlightened northern states, to elect a so-called "black" governor, Doug Wilder. The fates then carried their ironies even farther by having him inaugurated in Richmond, which was nothing less than the capital of the Confederacy, and he served out his term there, uneventfully, and then later became that town's mayor.

You would think that in the universal references to B.Obama's skin color -- which must be what people mean -- the American electorate has suddenly become composed of millions of portrait artists, who need to know B. Obama's exact pigmentation so that they can squeeze the proper colors out onto their easels in preparation for mass painting sessions. But to get even a fair likeness they would be badly advised to use tubes marked "mars" or "ivory" or "bone" black. Instead the various ochres and umbers and titanium dioxides would be much more necessary.

Actually, in more than one way B. Obama is just as much of that other bogus thing, being "white," as he is of being falsely "black," and in fact even somewhat more so, because his "white" American side, those two strong women, his late lamented mother and grandmother, had much more to do with him turning out to be who he is than did his father's African or "black" side. So how did he get to be more "black" than he is "white?"

B. Obama was not elected to be an interesting portrait subject, and his good qualities have much more to do with his intellect and his character. He is, first of all, but to my mind most important of all, a man who is in every intellectual and moral way as far as it is possible to get from the badly chastened criminal who is now sitting so forlornly at the big desk in the Oval Office. That's the most interesting feature that I see in B. Obama.

He should be called instead the first sensible President-elect that we have had since W. Clinton, and sharper than the majority of those who have served in the office. But in that first respect the comparative range is a little short and therefore it doesn't have much of a ring, while the second may be judged to be much too far-reaching and therefore liable to tighten too many jaws. But it is still much closer to an appraisal that really says something.

Maybe, however, the main truth is that I just don't trust the ways of the world. So, when bad spots crop up during B. Obama's presidency, as they must in today's world no matter what, I fear that they will be blamed on his supposed "blackness," just as right now that feature seems to be seen as a crowning virtue, it is mentioned so often -- a view of things that to me ranks with the life span of a butterfly ...or a rainbow.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Great Political Christmas, for a Change!

It's done! Obama won, and by a landslide. And so did a goodly number of other Democrats also prevail, strengthening their majorities in both the House and the Senate. It's impossible to predict how much all of this will mean in the future, when it comes to getting useful things done, given the diseased ventilation system in the U.S. Capitol building. But for me the main and overwhelming thing about Obama's victory is that it completely changes the mean-spirited tenor of the times that had been the hallmark of the numerous Republican administrations of my lifetime. So it's like a great Christmas having arrived ahead of time, with the presents consisting of the absence of the usual, continuously ugly, neo-fascist ideas and other junk.

For instance, one of the first great results that I am now strongly hoping for is to hear much less and hopefully nothing of the woman named S. Palin. J. McCain never bothered me as much as she did, and I thought he allowed real offal to be thrown into the game, as the saying expressed in a slightly different way used to -- and still may -- go, when he allowed fellow conservatives to pick that running mate for him. Her appearance soon disappeared completely inside the guise of pit bull combined with ignorance, a terrible combination for anyone to have. Yet some have touted her as being the future of the Republican Party. Unbelievable! We would all be greatly served if she could somehow be returned to Alaska, there never to be heard of again. Everybody would be safe from her then, in that vast expanse of unpopulated real estate. --Everybody, that is, except for her unlucky ex-brother-in-law, the state trooper.

And meanwhile even normally conservative Virginia turned blue, along with Florida among the members of the former Confederacy, while the word is still out on North Carolina. The tiny county in which I live, Nelson, also went for Obama, but that's not surprising, for it has usually been a bright spot of blue in a sea of other rural but crimson counties. My explanation is that it has a high number of transplants like me, plus the original inhabitans are just naturally more relaxed about most things -- because of the great scenery, especially this time of the year with the turning colors. But probably most important is that the county has a large number of old-timers with vivid memories of the hard times of the Great Depression and fond memories of Roosevelt's New Deal.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Voted Today!

(Along with tens of millions of other Americans) I voted today, and it was hands down the most significant ballot I have ever cast. Of course I voted the straight Democratic ticket, which in my area involved making only three choices, for the Obama-Biden ticket, and for the U.S. Senate, M. Warner, and for member of the House, T. Perriello.

It was a cool, drizzly morning, and I got there a little before nine, thinking I would catch a slow spot between the early morning rush of people voting before going to work, and the lunch hour. But there was a line of about 40 people, which wound out of the small building that serves as the civic center of that small town, Shipman, and for a little while we in the tail end had to stand in the precipitation. But it was entirely too exciting a time for anybody to really take notice of that. And the line moved briskly enough, and soon my voting was over and done with.

My neighbor across the road, K., is a poll worker, as my wife will be, starting at 12, and he told me that he got there at 5:30 in the morning but the line then was already as long as the one I was in, and another person said that this line was one of the shortest of the day so far. You have to understand that around here we are used to breezing in with hardly anyone ahead of us.

Despite the reputation I have for never getting out anymore, I knew three of the people manning -- or rather womanning -- the sign-in tables, and two of the ladies were sitting right next to each other. But unlike in all previous times, there was absolutely no time today for chit-chat of any kind, and all I could think of to say after they greeted me was, "Hey! I know both of you!" As always, though the polling place had what appeared to be the grand total of one touch-screen machine, I used the paper ballot, which is widely recommended to avoid, as much as possible, the numerous horror stories of voting malfeasance that are heard of being perpetrated to suppress the Democratic vote around the country.

I was voter No. 401. The last time I voted, in the primaries at about the same time of day a few months ago, I was only 31. At that rate, our small rural precinct will rack up a total count well up into the thousands -- completely dwarfed, however, by the huge number of much more populated areas all across the country, where the various voting scenes must be interesting indeed!

Well, that concludes the first part of this nationally nerve-wracking day. Now to wait for the tallies to come in, which figures to be the part that will really test our psychological constitutions.

I don't normally do much praying. I figure that ordinarily I shouldn't be asking for help from such a powerful hand, and, as in the case of sports contests, to do that is often on the unfair, selfish, unthinking side. But in special instances I do make a few silent requests to any celestial all-powerful being that might happen to be up "there" listening, and it's hard to think of many cases that would be more special than this election. It is a case of choosing between sheer life and death in many ways.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

In Election Times

I should not be paying any attention to the current elections, which are now just two days from finally wrapping up. They have always been a source of too much anxiety and pain, no matter which way they eventually went, though Republican success has been so great through all my adult life that usually I have voted for the losing side.

I always know for years ahead how I will vote, and so I am completely unlike those hordes who up to the last minute have the luxury of being among the highly sought-after Undecideds, the existence of whom I have no understanding and for which I have even less feeling. From the very beginning I have never had a choice, just as I have had no choice when it came to my physical features and in many other aspects as well.

Even if I could've voted on the day of my birth, it would not have been for H. Hoover, he of Great Depression infamy, just as today there's another Republican in the White House who, among many other high crimes and misdemeanors, has helped set the stage for a second disaster of that kind though quite possibly on an even larger scale, while another man is running hard to follow, for all his denials, in that man's exact footsteps.

I will vote for the Democrat every time.

For me, all my life, the Big Issue has always been Civil Rights, and everything else spreads out from there and is linked with it. That's because, unlike the majority of other American citizens, I was born without the basic civil rights that all of those others could and still can take for granted, and so now an always uncomfortable number of them can choose political candidates for President and other lesser offices for what strike me as often being the most picayune reasons, when compared to Civil Rights, which are at the heart of what the United States is supposed to be all about, though that principle is ignored and denied at every turn, because it doesn't conform with the personal comforts of too many in the majority.

I find that when thinking about voting I take the party much more into consideration than I do whoever is running. Some people think it's the height of cleverness to assert that they don't see any difference between the two major parties. But for me the difference is as stark as night and day, and that consists of the parties' attitudes toward Civil Rights.

I would insist that the great success of the Republican Party since the 1960's is mainly and possibly even purely due to the fact that it is understood but never openly stated that Republicans are pledged to stand in the way of Rainbows (aka black people, et. al) getting any more rights than the ones that they now so tenuously enjoy, while the Republicans are committed to rolling back, by any means they can contrive, the Rights that were so painfully won.

One of those rights is the one to vote, and so these days we see Republican operatives working with might and main to keep American citizens -- other than the ones that they consider to be real Americans and thus the country's only real people -- from voting. Just here in Virginia, leaflets have been distributed in the Tidewater saying that Republicans will vote this coming Tuesday while Democrats are supposed to wait till the next day. And probably every state has its own brand of chicanery waiting or already in effect, in the effort to install yet another illicit Republican administration.

It doesn't speak well for a country that it not only permits a party to operate on bases like that but even continues to think of it as being a perfectly respectable entity, when, by all the principles of common decency it is not.

And so for me every election is a scary moment when there is always the threat that once again the Nation will not adhere to its own high ideals, which this time it has a bigger chance than usual of observing, by choosing B. Obama, partly because of who he is but mainly because that choice will follow those American high ideals that exist on paper but run into difficulties when it comes to being put into practice.